Dad buys a very small, precariously built house on Little Hobart Street. Mom admonishes the kids to notice the positives about the house, but it has no heat or indoor plumbing. They usually can’t afford to have the electricity turned on. Nevertheless, the house sits on a lot of land, and Dad promises to soon start construction on the Glass Castle.
Dad is rarely home despite not having a job in Welch. He says he is investigating the United Miners Workers labor union, though Jeannette doesn’t quite believe him. In order to help Dad get started on the Glass Castle, Brian and Jeannette dig a large hole in the ground for the foundation. Over time, however, the family starts filling the pit with garbage because they can’t afford the garbage collection fee. Jeannette tries to improve the front of their home by painting it yellow, but a cold snap comes in and freezes the can of paint before she can finish.
Most of the Walls’ neighbors on Little Hobart Street live on welfare. The Hall family, for example, has six middle-aged kids with severe mental disabilities. The oldest, Kenny Hall, has a crush on Jeannette, and the other neighborhood kids torment him for it. The Pastor family, helmed by the town’s sex worker, Ginnie Sue Pastor, has nine children. Curious, Jeannette befriends Ginnie Sue’s daughter, Kathy, and goes to their house for dinner. Jeannette notices that the Pastor kids look remarkably different from one another. She impresses the Pastors with her ability to pick the meat from a chicken and with stories about Las Vegas and Phoenix. Jeannette enjoys her evening with the Pastors and concludes that sex work, at least, puts food on the table.
Violence is also very common in Welch. The Walls children regularly fight gangs of other kids who make fun of them for being so poor. One day, a classmate named Ernie Goad throws a rock through their window and makes fun of them for living in garbage. To retaliate, Brian and Jeannette fashion a catapult from a mattress and fire dozens of rocks down the mountain at dangerous speeds. When Ernie and his friends run away terrified, Jeannette and Brian celebrate in the street.
One night, Dad comes home drunk with several injuries, and Jeannette has to give him sutures by hand. After that, Dad starts disappearing for days at a time, claiming that he is developing the technology to burn coal more efficiently. Jeannette no longer believes him. Mom still occasionally receives lease money from her land in Texas, but it is hardly enough to survive. The family eats poorly and irregularly, sometimes having to resort to cat food or ham with maggots.
Brian and Jeannette begin foraging for food around their house, stealing from people’s farms, and dumpster diving in order to survive. Their classmates make fun of them for being skinny and not having lunch at school. Maureen survives by making friends and going to their homes for dinner. Once, the kids catch Mom eating a Hershey bar under the blanket. Brian takes it from her and splits it into four pieces for the kids.